Michael Metzger

Mark Twain said “education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.” Unlearning is one of the main reasons why we must go further up and further in.

There’s a popular idea that goes like this: I repent, come to Jesus, so I’m saved. I was once deceived but that’s no longer the case. I mature as I learn more about Jesus and the gospel.

But there’s a flaw in this line of thinking. It assumes repentance clears up all of my previously mistaken ideas about the gospel. An older view of repentance doesn’t think this way. It sees repentance as “the beginning of being undeceived.”[i] Maturity in the faith consists mainly in what we unlearn.

This has been my experience. I came to faith at the age of 18. But I didn’t come as a blank slate. I had all sorts of assumptions about Jesus and the gospel. Many were mistaken. I was deceived. But I didn’t know it. I had some unlearning to do. Even today, I’m still unlearning.

Saul began unlearning soon after coming to faith. He was sent into the wilderness of Arabia. Spent three years there. During that time, he was taken up to the third heaven. He went further up and further in. Saul (later named Paul) began to be undeceived about Jesus. What did he unlearn?

Paul wrote about his “third heaven” experience 14 years later. “I was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (II Cor.12:2-4). Paul couldn’t describe what he heard. But he did tell us what he saw.

Paul saw we are headed for a wedding banquet (Rev.19:6-9).

He saw we are headed for a wedding night, nuptial union (Eph.5:32).

He saw Jesus is our Groom. The gospel is God marrying us.

Paul was unlearning… discovering that the church is actually Jesus’ bride.

The church is Jesus’ betrothed.
As Jesus’ bride, he now saw the church is Jesus’ body.

Paul also saw our betrothal to Jesus happened at the cross.

Our lives are preparation to be presented to Jesus at the wedding banquet (II Cor.11:2).

But Paul saw even more.

To help us prepare, Paul saw the heavens and earth are saturated in spiritual beings.

He also saw additional spiritual beings, demonic, in the heavens and the earth.

Paul saw how they seek to deceive us.

He saw how he had been deceived, persecuting Jesus’ body.

Paul saw how Lucifer has deceived him, for the Devil seeks to torment Jesus’ body.

He saw how he had fallen for the wiles of the evil one.

Paul saw how he had much to unlearn about Jesus and the gospel.

Of course, Paul could have read all this in the Hebrew Bible. But how we imagine the gospel governs how we read the Bible. If the gospel is merely getting saved, we’ll likely overlook how the gospel is more about God marrying us. We’ll miss betrothal, preparation, presentation.

By unlearning, Paul didn’t miss it. Is this why God selected Paul to write two-thirds of the New Testament? Might be, since two-thirds of the New Testament addresses problems in the church, believers who apparently haven’t unlearned enough. They’re still deceived but don’t know it.

Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you think you know for sure that just ain’t so.” When we go further up and further in, we begin to unlearn. We begin to see what’s at stake in today’s world (it’s not what most of imagine). But that’s next week.

Be sure to check out the latest Clapham podcast: https://claphaminstitute.podbean.com/


[i] Os Guinness, The American Hour: A Time of Reckoning and the Once and Future Role of Faith, (Free Press, 1994), 403.


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One Comment

  1. btw, Walter Brueggemann discusses unlearning in his book, “Truth and Hope: Essays for a Perilous Age.” He also sees the Western faith tradition operating in exile, and rarely recognizing it. He writes that prophets help the faith community recognize present-day reality. He says prophets are necessary because the sequence is: “truth to hope.”

    Here is a quote from Brueggemann’s book:

    “The sequence from truth to hope in the book of Jeremiah is characteristic of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. These several prophetic voices (that gave canonical shape to the prophetic books) knew that this sequence is definingly important. There can be no hope until truth is told. Our temptation, of course, is to do the work of hope without the prior work of truth.”

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